Monte Carlo Man

Milan was probably the scariest part.

A year ago at this time, I had to deal with Atlanta. If you aren’t from around these parts or don’t do much business with Delta, you may not know Hartsfield International as well as I do. Imagine Hell, but farther South and subject to routine delays in your morning fire and brimstone. This time last year, I had my schedule set up perfectly. It was only a two-leg flight. G-Vegas to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Milan. The middle part got in the way. Because of Atlanta, there would be no Milan without first going to Paris, and avoiding Paris was the only reason I was going to Milan in the first place.

The fact that none of it made much sense from the outset made the solution sound more than reasonable. For reasons I still can’t fully explain, I was persona non grata in Paris, not to mention the rest of the country of France. More delicately put, it wasn’t me so much as my ilk. I’d been advised that it would be best if I just avoided setting down on French soil. So, when the Delta agent said she could get me to Milan–alebit much too late–if I flew through Paris, I grew what I like to call, “gambley.”

“So you’re saying I can only get to Milan if I fly into Paris?” I said. “Thing is, I don’t even want to go to Milan.”

The lady looked at me like she must look at a thousand angry tourists a day.

“I want to go to Nice,” I said. “If I have to go to Paris, why not just send me from Paris to Nice. It would save me train ride.”

“But you’re going to Milan,” she said. “I can’t send you to Nice.”

“How about,” I said, “you send me to Nice?”

A glazed look came over the re-booking agent’s eyes. Almost magically, she handed me my boarding passes. On one of them were the words Nice, France. I’m still not sure what I said to convince her.

Some hours later, I was at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, a place I’d been a few times before and never found reason to like. It is among my least favorite airports in the world. Atlanta, of course, is worse, but that goes without saying. As I stood in the first of many passport lanes, I looked around to see if any government agents were going to subject me to French torture. Seeing none, I ate a crusty-bread-sandwich with a too-small Coca Light and waited to go to Nice. When I got to Nice, it was, as you might expect, nice. The helicopter ride cost about ten euros more than the cab, so the decision was pretty easy. Half an hour later I was in Monte Carlo for the third time.

Let me be clear. Monte Carlo is a beautiful city. It’s historic, vibrant, and as eye-catching as most any place you’d want. That said, it’s expensive and looks down its nose at commoners like me. I guess it’s best summed up in a post I wrote a couple of years ago: A Night at Jimmyz. My work there is a little more involved than my average day at home. By the end of the run, I am ready to escape back to a normal life. And, well, I’m also ready to drink. Last year, I did both within a few hours of each other.

I slept on the bus from Monaco to Milan. This was the scheduled part of the trip. Despite convincing the desk agent in Atlanta that I should go to Nice, I still had a flight from Milan to Atlanta if I wanted to go home. When I woke up on the bus, I was in the parking lot of what looked like a Georgia truck stop, except everyone spoke Italian (I understand both Georgian and Italian equally). When I woke up a few hours later, I was in Milan.

I went to see the Duomo di Milano and ended up in the middle of some soccer hooligan convention. Pickpockets were everywhere. I ate ham and mushroom pizza in an outdoor cafe. I slept in a room the size of a nice closet. I ate pistachio gelato. It was all pleasant.

The scary part didn’t happen until I got to the airport in Milan. I was made to understand that only the French found me objectionable. The Italians, I was told, not only make a mean gelato, but apparently cotton to my wily ways. I strode confidently through the airport and toward my gate. When two men with stern faces and ugly guns stopped me in the midddle of a hallway, I started to wonder if I had broken some sort of gelato consumption law.

They wanted my intinerary, which was funnny because I had no idea where it was. I knew what time I had to be on a plane. I had a passport. I thought that was enough. The guys with the guns plucked my passport from my hand and started studying a dot-matrix-printed page of names. They spoke back in forth in Italian and looked me up and down.

I follow world politics, but I don’t know how well the French and Italians are getting along these days. I do know that, at that moment, I was fairly sure my little day trip through France was coming back to bite me and had become an international incident involving mushroom pizza, jambon sandwiches, and soccer hooligans. How, exactly, the French had tracked me down in the middle of the hallway through the watchful eyes of assault-rifle toting, uniformed police, I didn’t know. Not being Jason Bourne, however, I didn’t bolt for the door. I stood there and waited to be arrested and extradited to France.

The Italian police looked me up and down once more before handing me my passport and nodding toward the Delta gate a few feet away. They never actually muttered, “stupid American,” but I think it was implied.

This time tomorrow, I will be back on the plane for the Côte d’Azur. Apparently, through some quirk of diplomatic relations as they relate to withering 30-something writer-types, I don’t have to tread lightly on French soil anymore. As a result, I get to fly to Cincy, then to New York, then to Nice, before boarding a helicopter to Monte Carlo.

I’m not exactly what you’d call excited about this particular trip. Still, I’ll get to see some friends I haven’t seen in some time, and, like the time I ended up in a poker game with Anthony Holden, one of my favorite poker writers, interesting things tend to happen to me in Monaco.

Interesting things? Somebody look up “harbinger” and make sure I didn’t just screw myself.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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5 Responses

  1. change100 says:

    See you there! I get in on the 11th.

    Is the heli ride really worth it? Do you think I’d be puke girl again?

  2. otis says:

    Damn, Change. Didn’t know you were coming. That makes me more than a little rowdy. My thoughts on the heli ride:

    1) Money-wise, it’s worth it by a mile. Cab ride from Nice will run you 80-100 euros depending on traffic and the driver. What’s more, it takes, IIRC, at least 45 minutes. It’s a pretty drive, but after you’ve been on a plane for a ton of hours, sitting in a car for that amount of time is frustrating. The helicopter runs almost exactly the same amount of money one-way, and if you get there without having to wait too long for takeoff, it shaves some time off the trip. There is a five-minute shuttle to your hotel (Meridian, I assume?) from the landing pad.

    2) Puke girl again? I doubt it. The ride is realtively smooth, banks out over the Mediterranean and then it’s a straight flight. Plus, the flight itself is maybe 20 minutes long.

    If you’re at all worried, the cab is an okay option. I always take a cab to the airport on my return. They’re basically safe, just a little slow and expensive.

  3. StB says:

    Hope both of you have a safe trip.

  4. cc says:

    Safe travels, and hope you can take some time to take it all in.

  5. Da Goddess says:

    I’d do it all for that helicopter ride. I like helicopters.

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